Tuomotus Atolls, Route Planning

Since Scott and I chose to stay one year in French Polynesia, in early April ’23 we headed from the Marquesis directly to the Tuomotus. We sailed Sea Bella from Fatu Hiva, aiming as high on the wind as possible, sailed 3 days and landed in Atoll Amanu, a darling sleepy village which had the youngest Mayor in all of France. Two highlights; the children were so playful and engaging and the small reef in the middle known as Star Island was a colorful dream.

After a few weeks and not much for provisioning, we headed to the atoll Makemo, which also has a quaint happy town. This is our favorite atoll for snorkeling the many coral heads. Their colors and formations are vivid and just so healthy, not to mention the intense blues and purples of the clams. A quick change in weather had us running to a safe anchorage at the most south corner, but the fetch and craggy bommies were still an issue. Some boats’ had their windless’ break and others’ bridles broke, not to mention some lightning damage.

Ready for change, we had an excellent downwind sail to Tahanea with a few boat friends. What an amazing atoll for diving or drift snorkeling all 3 passes. The coral reefs were healthy and such fun to snorkel daily in. Its very important to always note the tides in the passes and snorkel on slack to incoming only. Enjoying the quiet anchorages with just 4-5 boats was pure bliss for us nature lovers, but it’s not for every cruiser since there is no support, village or local people to be seen.

Needing some fresh vegetables and fruit we headed next to the atoll Kaeuhi, which had a tiny market but nothing fresh. We stocked up on canned and frozen goods and found most of the basic essentials. This is typical in these remote islands with only one village of a few hundred locals, maybe 1 market, a bakery and 1 small restaurant. They don’t grow vegetables here because its all sand or rocky coral. A supply boat will come every week or two, but often that is not when you are at the village. Wind shifts occur weekly, possibly making cruisers take cover many miles away from town.

So, although breathtaking, we chose to move on to Fakarava, a well known dive spot of the Tuomotus. We spent 4 weeks at a must see anchorage Hirifa and a must do scuba dive spot at the South Pass. Most cruisers have their own dive gear, and its simple and cheap to refill your tank at the dive shops. Small guided boat dives are also available daily. Hanging out with 30-40 other International cruisers; diving, snorkeling, beach games, bonfires, wind sports all was an excellent time.

Again, needing fresh foods and since we had some lightning damage, we needed marine services in Tahiti, so went to the docks for a month. We found the mechanical services and supplies to be excellent. But, we did not care for Tahiti much, kind of a big city, pricey, very spread out with confusing bus schedules. After provisioning for another 4 months, we stopped over at marvelous Moorea and back to the Tuomotus.

Our first stop was Tikehau for a week, unfortunately it was upwind, so we motorsailed. There are two must see spots, but possibly seasonal. One is a snorkel spot where the graceful reef mantas get their mouths cleaned by little blue fish. The other is an amazing group of thousands of fish just outside the pass. The best advise with finding the special secrets on the Islands is to ask a local, they are thrilled to help or even take you there.

The next atoll on our list was Rangiroa, well known for its excursions. The majestic Blue Lagoon (below) was stunning and a dive with dolphins, who playfully jump in the waves of the passe. Again, we found the people, village, anchorages, beaches all a peaceful delight.

After a few weeks, we sailed upwind to Toau, pleasant, small, and simple. If you glance at a map of the atolls, you will notice they are mostly in a line that follows the trade winds. Good for going NE but more tricky to go SE. If a cruiser is planning on heading back to the Marquesas for storm season (which seems to be the most popular and safest option) route planning and weather watching is a must. Which is exactly why we island hopped back upwind to Fakarava (3 weeks), Tahanea (3 days) Makemo (2 weeks ) and Raroria (1 week).

Overall, these sandy atolls were very similar and we thoroughly enjoyed the slow pace, meeting the locals, swimming daily in 80 degree waters, and communing with the cruisers. Since the sailing season ends in October, it seems that most boats had either hussled on to Fiji or circled back to Marquesis for cyclone season. I learned that you can either cruise slowly or fast through the Tuomotus, but no medium speed due to their remoteness and the strong trade winds.

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